The Bombay High Court has directed the state government to expedite temporary release of prisoners serving up to seven years imprisonment from all jails across Maharashtra as per the Supreme Court’s directions on decongesting jails due to COVID-19 pandemic. The court’s directions came after government lawyer informed it that 4,060 out of 11,000 prisoners have been released on interim bail or parole and no prisoner in jails across Maharashtra has been affected by COVID-19.
A single-judge bench of Justice Girish S Kulkarni passed an order through videoconference on Thursday after the HC took a suo-motu cognisance of a letter written by advocate Satish B Talekar and converted it into a plea claiming inaction by authorities.
A high-powered committee constituted in the state following the Supreme Court order on decongesting prisons had decided that undertrial prisoners booked for offences with maximum punishment up to seven years will be released on interim bail initially for 45 days by furnishing personal bonds.
The committee’s order also includes those being tried by the sessions court, but excludes those booked for serious offences under special laws, including Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) and Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. The accused will be required to report to the police once every 30 days.
On March 26, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh announced the release of 11,000 prisoners, including undertrials and convicts, based on parameters decided by the high-powered committee and the undertrial review committee.
In view of this, the plea before HC stated that SC order is not being properly implemented and state government is required to take immediate steps to release the convicts on emergency parole as per committee’s decisions.
On Thursday, Public Prosecutor Deepak Thakare submitted a letter dated April 20 addressed to him by state Additional Director General (prisons) which stated that none of the persons in prisons across state is affected with coronavirus and so far, 4060 undertrials are released on temporary bail. The letter stated that further action is being taken to release more prisoners as prescribed by the high-powered committee.
Justice Kulkarni noted in his order, “I am of the opinion, that as the state is already in process of releasing 11000 prisoners, it is not necessary to issue immediate directions. However, it is clarified that the State Government may expedite such steps which are being taken, so that the SC orders are implemented in letter and spirit.”
Moreover, the court referred to advocate Talekar’s letter to the high-powered committee seeking release of undertrials accused on temporary bail even those, who are either accused or convicted for under Special laws. The letter stated that undertrials booked under special laws cannot be discriminated.
The court asked the high-powered committee to consider the representation and decide it earliest possible and posted further hearing on April 30.
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